SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The 2012 softball season opens for UC Santa Barbara this Thursday as the Gauchos travel to the always-competitive Kajikawa Classic, which is hosted by Arizona State through Sunday.
Between the Kajikawa Classic and the following weekend's Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego, the Gauchos are slated to start the season with 11-consecutive road games before opening at home on Feb. 23 with the annual Gaucho Classic I.
UCSB will be challenged early, as nine of its 15 opponents in February are ranked or receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Softball or NFCA Preseason Top-25 polls. In all, the Gauchos are scheduled to play 11 games against teams currently ranked and five games against teams receiving votes.
Following a challenging non-conference schedule, head coach Brie Galicinao intends to lead a battle-tested Gaucho squad into Big West Conference play on March 31.
"We are preparing to be at our best at conference," Galicinao said. "We have six weekends, plus spring break games, to prepare for that.
"We are playing to win all of those other games and doing everything we can leading up to Thursday to have the best showing and to see where we are as a team."
The goal for this year's Gauchos is clear: to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2007 season.
"We have every intention of playing past our last conference game against Northridge," Galicinao said.
The Gauchos' leader believes the keys to the team's success and to making a postseason run in 2012 will be remaining physically healthy and mentally strong.
"Whether we go out there and are 11-0 or 0-11 (in the first two weeks), we need to not just be focused on the results, but more so, on how we can get better as a team," Galicinao said. "I think the key is being able to deal with the ups and downs and the wins and/or losses, and still being able to focus and keep our eye on the prize, which is the Big West."
UCSB returns 12 letterwinners from its 2011 squad, which posted a 27-26 overall record and an 11-10 record in conference play. That squad set single season school records for both doubles (71) and double plays (32), while also tying the school record for consecutive wins (9).
The Gauchos finished fourth in the league standings, the same position they were picked to finish this season in a preseason poll of the Big West coaches. UCSB received 37 points in the poll while Pacific and Long Beach State were tied for first with 59 points and four first-place votes apiece. Cal State Fullerton was third with 42 points.
In 2012, UCSB will look to utilize the strength and experience of its veterans while also incorporating three talented freshmen and a standout transfer into its lineup.
Following is a look at the 2012 Gauchos by position:
Collins started 24 games during her rookie campaign, compiling a 12-12 overall record across her 31 appearances after opening the season with four consecutive wins. She posted a 3.70 ERA and led the pitching staff with 89 strikeouts.
"AC started out strong last year," Galicinao said. "I am excited for her to start off this season and come back to where she was at the middle of the season last year. When she is on, it is very tough to hit her."
Wisdom, who hails from Elk Grove High School, is a three-time All-Delta Valley Conference selection, a two-time All-City pick and the 2010 Sac Joaquin Division I Champion. The 2010 Sacramento Bee Player of the Year played club with Lady Magic Softball, with which she won the 2008 ASA 16U National Championship.
"Shelby had a lot of success before getting to the college level, but I don't think she has an inflated ego or doesn't respect that it (playing at the next level) is going to be a challenge," Galicinao said. "She makes such quick adjustments; she is relentless, wants the ball and loves the game."
The Gauchos' senior pitcher, Krista Cobb, has been sidelined due to an injury and is not anticipated to return to action prior to conference play. Cobb, who was the 2009 Big West Co-Freshman Pitcher of the Year and a three-time all-conference selection, compiled a 15-14 overall record in 2011 with a 3.33 ERA. She started 29 games and tallied 85 strikeouts. Cobb ranks in the UCSB all-time top-10 for career wins (40), strikeouts (263), complete games (47), innings pitched (461.1) and shutouts (13).
"Realistically, we will be leaning on our underclassmen and they are more than capable of carrying that load against some of the best competition," Galicinao said.
"They physically can handle it. Mentally they have shown that they can recover, that they can make adjustments; that is going to be key for them against the best offenses. They are softball savvy and they know how to use their stuff."
DePompa, a three-year starter for the Gauchos, played in all but one game last season while compiling a .245 batting average. She posted six doubles and 17 RBI. Defensively, she caught 12 runners stealing.
"Lainey's hitting is the best it has looked during her four years here, just in terms of her consistency," Galicinao said. "She is the anchor of our defense and she continues to be consistent with her talk and helping out her teammates."
As DePompa's backup at catcher and as a designated player last season, Gill played in 24 games, starting 15. She boasted a .408 on-base percentage to go along with six runs and seven RBI. Gill also posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. The sophomore had surgery during the offseason and has slowly eased back into catching.
"Her bat looks really good; her throws are accurate and strong," Galicinao said. "She is coming back from her surgery as planned, if not better."
The Gauchos boast an athletic infield, which includes sophomore Lauren Boser or freshman Jenessa Jeppesen at first base, sophomore Kathryn Pilpil at second, junior Keilani Jennings at third and freshman DeJanee Moore at shortstop.
"We have arms on the left side, we have range up the middle and great gloves at the corners," Galicinao said. "They all know the game and they are athletic. They will be ready to play some fast offenses."
Jennings, a 2011 All-Big West First Team pick, will return to the diamond after suffering the second season-ending injury of her career during last season's conference series against UC Riverside.
Prior to her injury, Jennings tied the school record for single season doubles (15) and led the team with her .317 batting average, six home runs, 71 total bases and .427 on-base percentage. She also scored 27 runs and had 31 RBI. Jennings currently ranks ninth all-time for career home runs (15) in the UCSB record book.
"We missed her bat in conference last season," Galicinao said. "We are very excited to have that back in there. I wont be surprised if she picks up where she left off."
Pilpil was an outstanding addition to the Gaucho lineup last year and her rookie campaign culminated in All-Big West Honorable Mention accolades. She started every game at second base and posted a .308 batting average. Pipil led the team in runs (33) and walks (29) while ranking second in triples (3) and total bases (69).
"Award goes to her for being the most annoying hitter, in a good way," Galicinao said. "She finds a way to get on and works her at-bats. She is smart, strong, knows the game and has great hands."
The Gauchos will have a couple of options at first base. The first being Boser, who started every contest last season and posted 17 runs, seven doubles, two homers and 22 RBI to go along with a .987 fielding percentage and 26 double plays.
The other option at first is freshman Jeppesen, who hails from Oak Ridge High School, was a three-time All-Delta River League pick and helped her team to three-consecutive Sac Joaquin Section titles. She competed with Wisdom and Moore for Lady Magic Softball.
"Either of them can play at the corner, depending on what the lineup needs," Galicinao said.
Moore comes to UCSB from Sheldon High School, where she was a three-time All-Delta River First Team pick and a two-time Sac Joaquin Section Division I Champion.
"There may be more movement in our lineup depending on what our competition is," Galicinao said. "If we want to go with a speed game or want to go with more power, we have the depth and the options now."
The Gaucho outfield is just as deep as the infield and will consist of a very experienced crew.
Seniors Allison Taylor and Brooke Putich return for their final season in the blue and gold. Taylor garnered All-Big West Second Team accolades last season after a solid year at the plate. She posted a .304 batting average and led the Gauchos with 33 RBI. She was second on the team in doubles (12), slugging percentage (.466) and total bases (69).
"Ali is very consistent and she is someone that understands what she needs to do to get her job done," Galicinao said. "She can hit one over the fence, but she knows when she needs to hit a ground ball to move a runner."
Putich started every game in 2011 and led the team with her five triples and 13 stolen bases. She batted .294 with 24 runs and 22 RBI.
Rounding out the returners in outfield is Kane, who led the team in hits (59) during her first campaign with UCSB. She compiled a .307 batting average, scored 27 runs and tied Putich with a team-best 13 stolen bags.
Soria – a transfer – will cover center field this season for the Gauchos. At Arizona Western College, she twice garnered All-American honors in addition to All-Region and All-Conference accolades.
When Wisdom is not in the circle, she may also spend some time in the outfield for the Gauchos.
"Whoever we have out there, there is going to be a lot of ground covered," Galicinao said. "It's an athletic outfield. Defensively they can play outfield; it isn't just a group of good hitters out there."
Liepman, who has served as a relief pitcher the past three seasons, can fill in as needed in the circle or as a pinch runner.
Coming Soon to Campus Diamond
The 2012 softball home slate will open with the Gaucho Classic I in which UCSB will host Houston, Nevada, UNLV and San Diego in a three-day tournament (Feb. 23-26). The Gaucho Classic II will welcome Wisconsin, San Jose State and Oklahoma State to Santa Barbara for another three days of tournament play (Mar. 16-18).
The Gauchos will host non-conference contests against UCLA (Mar. 25) and Cal State Bakersfield (Apr. 10) and three-game Big West series against Long Beach State (Mar. 31-Apr. 1), Pacific (Apr. 21-22) and Cal Poly (May 5-6). To view the complete schedule, click here.
Season tickets are available and the package includes All-Session passes for both home tournaments, in addition to tickets to 11 more exciting home contests.
Season tickets can be purchased for $60 – for a cost of just $2.61 per game – and with their purchase, fans will receive a $25 gift certificate to the Gauchos Shop.
To purchase 2012 softball season tickets, call 805-893-UCSB, visit the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus or click here to purchase online.
Members of GKids, the official kids club of UCSB Athletics, receive free admission to all home softball contests in addition to a GKids T-shirt and coloring book. To sign up for GKids or to learn more, click here.